Avery’s quick and dirty guide to making you look better on video calls

you do not need any of this stuff

I have this wonderful group of friends who all have something in common: we all run workshops, events, courses, or conferences. And during the last year, we’ve had to move our in-person gatherings to online ones.

We were chatting recently about our A/V setups in our home offices. What cameras, audio, and lighting we use to deliver high quality video to the world, without spending a bajillion dollars. Because you can really go hog wild and end up wasting a lot of money on gear you don’t need. I told my friends what I think is worth buying (and what’s worth skipping).

In that conversation, one of my pals said, “Avery, I bet others would really want to know this. Write it up and post it.” So here we are: Avery’s quick and dirty guide to enhancing your work-from-home A/V setup.

1. Internet Connection

It doesn’t matter how great you look if your internet connection stinks. Trying to send high grade video through low grade pipes just won’t work. Most video calling platforms will downgrade the video quality if the connection is poor.

The number one most important place to focus your upgrade energy is on your internet connection. That means both the connectivity that comes into your home, and the connectivity inside the home itself. Talk to your ISP (internet service provider) and see what’s available in your area. It may have changed since the last time you contacted them. Shop around and switch ISPs if you need to.

Once you have the best connection possible coming into the home, you need to distribute it around your home. Your router is the device that broadcasts your WiFi signal to your computers, tablets, phones, etc. I like to think of a router as a radio transmitter, and your computer as a radio, “tuning in” to the signal that the router is broadcasting.

If your home is small and open (such as a studio apartment), then you won’t have much trouble picking up that WiFi signal from the router. But if you have multiple floors, a lot of walls, or a fair bit of distance from the router to your device? You’re gonna need to boost that signal. My favourite way to do this is through a mesh network and my favourite one for most people is Google Nest WiFi. That’s because it’s easy to setup and use.

2. Lights

One of my online-course-making pals asked me about lighting, and how I setup my lights for TV broadcasts. She suspected that she needed to buy some new lights, and wanted to know what I recommended.

Here’s the thing about lighting — the light itself matters, but what matters even more is the placement of the light. Or, lights. Plural. You can buy a bunch of fancypants lights, but if you put them in the wrong place, you’re still going to look like a hot mess express. Let me introduce you to something I learned in theatre school. Yes, I went to theatre school. Not for acting, but for technical production. 4 years of lighting, props, costuming, carpentry, scenic painting, and stage management classes, resulting in a BFA and a brain full of random, wildly practical skills that have helped me in all kinds of situations. Don’t ever think studying art is a waste of time.

Anyway, here it is. Three-point lighting. It will change your life.

image c/o DK New Media, LLC

One thing you might notice here — there’s no overhead light. Turn those off. They’re the devil. The most important light is the key light (note that it’s not directly in front of you, unless you’re going for that deer-in-the-headlights look). Start with that one. Then add the fill light, but only turn it up enough to fill in the shadows caused by the key light. Around 50% will work. Finally, add the back light, which will give you some depth so as to not look flat or like you’re blending in with the background. Experiment with height and direction of the light too, especially on the fill light. No one wants a double chin caused by a shadow.

You can use lamps you already have to achieve a solid three-point lighting arrangement. My own setup is comprised of a desk lamp tilted sideways, a window (natural light works really well as the fill light in my office) and a ring light I bought off Amazon.

If you really want to know which lights I’ve purchased, here is a standing one and here is a desktop one. But again, it’s not so much the light itself that’s going to make the difference. It’s where you put it.

3. Camera

You have probably noticed that the webcam in your laptop stinks. They all do. If you’d like to upgrade the camera you use for your video, you have a few options.

You can use your smartphone. You can use an old smartphone just for its camera. You can use a DSLR or point-and-shoot camera for a webcam. Or, you can get an external, high definition webcam. That’s what I do. I was going to get the Logitech C920S HD Pro Webcam because it was the one Wirecutter has recommended for three years straight. It was sold out the day I was buying, so I got the very similar Logitech C922 Pro Stream 1080p HD Webcam instead. It’s great. Sometimes it overexposes the shot, but Logitech has software that can help you correct for that.

4. Sound

Audio gets compressed all to hell on most video calls. I’m not going to make recommendations for expensive headphones and microphones, because you don’t need them unless you’re making an audio or video recording. For video calls, just wear headphones with a mic, preferably ones that are wired, that are comfortable.

So there you have it. My quick and dirty tips for enhancing your A/V setup for video calls in your home office. Hope this helps.

[This post originally appeared in my free email newsletter. Tips, tools, and insight for integrating technology into your small business and your life. Delivered directly to your inbox, twice a month. Subscribe here.]

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Founder & CEO, Camp Tech. Author of the best-selling digital marketing book, See You on the Internet. https://seeyouontheinternet.com

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Avery Swartz

Avery Swartz

Founder & CEO, Camp Tech. Author of the best-selling digital marketing book, See You on the Internet. https://seeyouontheinternet.com

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